One of Tim Burton’s distinct qualities as a celebrity director is his penchant for adapting pre-existing properties for the screen. In addition to traditional literary properties (i.e., novels, a short story) and a dramatic source (i.e., a Broadway musical), Burton has also adapted, remade or drawn extensively from other films, comic books and a series of trading cards. Thus, he is an exemplary figure in the contemporary shift towards “postliterary adaptation”: Thomas Leitch’s term for Hollywood’s tendency to poach from sources other than literary or dramatic texts and for reasons other than the narrative appeal of these sources. Burton’s selective directorial preferences must not only be situated within the economics of postliterary adaptation, but must also be understood as being indicative of a corporate strategy that aims for the strategic cooption of potentially unruly niche audiences. Often explicitly advertised as “reimaginings,” Burton’s films are neither remakes nor adaptations in the familiar sense, but rather paradigmatic examples of an adaptive management system – a contemporary industrial practice that harnesses and regulates the creative energies of both filmmakers and fans.</p><p>The notion of a “reimagined” property, then, is a corporately-conceived taste-category that serves principally as a strategy of risk-management. The label is an honorific that circumvents cultists’ complaints by implicitly acknowledging and authorizing the creative liberties taken by the new adaptation. Thus, the discriminating fan-spectator is placated rather than dismayed at the prospect of (yet) another Alice in Wonderland because it is “reimagined” by the singular artistry of an auteur such as Burton. More crucially, a reimagined text is fundamentally fan-oriented: it is a deliberately structured and marketed invitation to certain niche audiences to engage in comparative activities. That is, its preferred spectators are often those opinionated and outspoken fan cultures whose familiarity with the texts is addressed and whose influence within a more dispersed filmgoing community is acknowledged, courted, and ultimately colonized.
Re-examining David Lynch’s Eraserhead in the context of recent studies and developments in body theory, the author suggests that the malformed infant is a complex textual body which carries many more potential meanings than our contemporary culture is willing to prescribe. By employing an opposition of the "open" versus "closed" body, Lynch critiques dominant readings and depictions of the infantile body as a site of innocence, transforming it, instead, into a locus of horror and astonishment in an endless chain of signifiers.